Presidents: John Adams

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John Adams was the 2nd President of the United States, having served as Vice President under George Washington.

A young John Adams

Adams is one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and due to his correspondence we can take a deeper look into the founding of a new nation.

John Adams was born on October 30, 1735 to John and Susanna Boylston Adams, Sr. in Massachusetts.    Adams had a good education and entered Harvard College at the age of sixteen.

John Adams worked hard and eventually became a lawyer.  He had already developed the habit of describing events and impressions of men in the diary he kept.  Soon he was published in the local Boston newspapers, often under the pen name Humphrey Ploughjogger.

On October 25, 1764, he married Abigail Smith.  They would go on to have six children, including the future president, John Quincy Adams.

He rose to prominence when he opposed the Stamp Act of 1765, encouraging his fellow countrymen to also oppose this new law.  His reputation continued to spread when he defeated and won an acquittal for some of the soldiers that were part of the Boston Massacre.  After this victory, his law practice greatly increased.

John Adams

Adams was sent to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress in 1775-1777 by his home state of Massachusetts.  In June 1775, he nominated George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.  During his time in Philadelphia, he and Abigail exchanged numerous letters.

At the urging of his colleagues, Adams set his thoughts and ideas on forming a new government to paper, in the form of letters to these men.  In 1776, Adams seconded the resolution for Independence and championed the cause until it passed.

In 1778, Adams and his ten year old son, John Quincy, sailed for France as a Commissioner to France.  The following year, he was responsible for negotiating a peace treaty with the British.   Over the following decade, he would serve as Ambassador to Holland and Ambassador to Great Britain.

Adams came in second in the presidential election of 1789, making him the Vice President to George Washington.  President Washington seldom consulted with John Adams on issues of policy and legal issues.  Adams’ two terms as Vice President were frustrating experiences for him. He complained to his wife Abigail, “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

Adams won the election of 1796, against Thomas Jefferson, who would become his Vice President.  John Adams became the 2nd President of the United States, a title he hoped would be more loftier sounding when searching for the title under President Washington.

John Adams

During Adams presidency, the British and French were at war, leading to belligerence from the French towards the United States, whom they saw as a mini-Britain. This led to the XYZ Affair, in which the French demanded huge bribes.  Eventually tensions rose and the Quasi-War broke out with France in 1798.

Adams did see success in other parts of his Presidency, such as rebuilding the Navy.

Adams resolve to advance peace with France, led to hostilities, and eventually his defeat for reelection.

On November 1, 1800, Adams moved into the still unfinished President’s Mansion {today we call this the White House}, becoming the first President to occupy the new home.  Adams said of the home, “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it,” Adams wrote on his second night in the mansion. “May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.

Before the end of the month, his son Charles died as a result of alcoholism. Adams was depressed in his final months in office and eager to return to his beloved Abigail.

Adams understood the importance of liberty

He left the Presidential Mansion at 4am, becoming one of only four surviving Presidents not to attend his successors swearing in.

Adams returned to his home Peacefield, in Quincy, Massachusetts where he resumed farming and began work on his unfinished autobiography.

In 1812, Adams and Thomas Jefferson made peace and resumed a correspondence that would last the rest of their lives.

On October 28, 1818, Abigail Adams died of typhoid fever.

In 1825, Adams witnessed is son, John Quincy Adams, become President of the United States.

On July 4, 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams died.  His last words, “Thomas Jefferson survives”, proved he was unaware of the death earlier that day of his former rival and friend.

He was buried at United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts.


Nickname: “Atlas of Independence”

Born: October 30, 1735, in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts
Died: July 4, 1826, in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts

Father: John Adams
Mother: Susanna Boylston Adams
Married: Abigail Smith (1744-1818), on October 25, 1764
Children: Abigail Amelia Adams (1765-1813);  John Quincy Adams (1767-1848); Susanna Adams (1768-70); Charles Adams (1770-1800); Thomas Boylston Adams (1772-1832)

Religion: Unitarian
Education: Graduated from Harvard College (1755)
Occupation: Lawyer
Political Party: Federalist

Other Government Positions:

  • Member of Continental Congress, 1774-78
  • Commissioner to France, 1778
  • Minister to the Netherlands, 1780
  • Minister to England, 1785
  • Vice President, 1789-97 (under George Washington)

Presidential Salary: $25,000/year

  • 1796
    • E Pluribus Unum: “Out of Many, One”; added to American coins.
  • 1797
    • Three anonymous French trouble makers brought France and the U.S. to the brink of war in what became known as the XYZ Affair.
  • 1798
    • Federalists support the highly unpopular Alien and Sedition Acts. They would later be repealed.
  • 1800
    • U.S. capital relocated to Washington, D.C. from Philadelphia.
    • Thomas Jefferson defeated Adams.
    • Congress established Library of Congress.

1735 Born in Braintree, Norfolk County, Massachusetts
1755 Graduated from Harvared College
1758 Studied law and admitted to the bar
1764 Married Abigail Smith
1774 Became a member of the Continential Congress 1775 American Revolution begins
1776 Declaration of Independence signed
1778 Commissioner to France
1780 Minister to the Netherlands
1785 Minister to England
1789 Vice President to George Washington
1790 District of Columbia becomes the Capital
1797 Inaugurated as Presdient of United States
1800 Moves into the White House
1801 Leaves office of President; returns home
1812 War of 1812
1817 First Seminole War
1826 John Adams dies at 90 in Quincy, Massachusetts


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